What is Political Party?

Nature, Types and Functions of Political Party

There are various political parties with different ideologies in every country, and they want somehow to enter into government. They have national interests and a definite goal that may be favourable or not for the country. Basically, a Political Party is a group of persons organised to acquire and exercise political power

Political Party: Feature, Functions and Importance

Meaning of Political Party

A political party is an organised group of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions that seek to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office. Besides, A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. The party agrees on some proposed policies and programs to promote the collective good or further their supporters' interests.

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In another sense : 

  1. A political party is a group of people who share the same ideas about how the country should be governed.
  2. They work together to introduce new laws the alter old rules. 
  3. Political parties try to control what happens in Parliament by securing a majority of seats (Members of Parliament).
  4. Political Parties have policies. An excellent example of an approach is "education must be free for all youngsters between 5 to 18 years of age".
  5. Usually, when a political party wants to change Laws and Regulations, they have to put their idea to all the Members of Parliament. A vote then takes place, and if most MPs vote 'YES', the change to the Law/Regulation occurs.

Instead, a political party is a group of dedicated people who win elections, operate the government, and determine public policy.

According to Gettell, “ A political party consists of a group of citizens more or less organized who act as a political unit and who by the use of their voting  power aim to control the government and to carry out their general policies” 
According to Gilchrist, “ A political party may thus be defined as an organized group of citizens who prefer to share the same political views and who by acting as a political unit try to control the government.” 
According to MacIver, “  A political party is an association organized in support of some principle or policy which by constitutional means it endeavors  to make the determinant of government.”

Moreover, A political party consists of a group of like-minded people who work together as a unit to influence the general public and context elections to gain control over the government.

Members of the same political party share a common goal, aims and objectives. Different political parties compete to influence public policies and opinions with their philosophies, ideas, and objectives. A political party operates and seeks political power through constitutional means to translate its policies into practice. It is a body of like-minded people to translate its policies into practice. It is a body of like-minded people with similar views on public concern matters.


Characteristics of a Political Party

It can be characterised by

  1. Having an organised group.
  2. Having a common ideology.
  3. Seeking political power through constitutional means.
  4. Implementing policies to attain the goal.
  5. Adopt the peaceful method

On the whole, we can say that A political party is an association or political institution or organised group of citizens with shared ideas and views of national interest. They want to come into government and have the power of leadership to govern a state.


Functions of Political Parties in Democracy

Political parties are indispensable for the working of modern democratic governments. The importance of Political parties lies in the fact that democracies cannot function without the existence of political parties. In the absence of organised political parties, one just cannot think of the working of representative government. In the light of the analysis of the functions of political parties by Merriam and Munro, they may be discussed as follows.

1. It makes the working of parliamentary government possible: A parliament consists of the people's representatives. The political parties organise these representatives on party lines. The electorate chooses their representatives based on their party affiliation. The party which gets the majority of votes forms the government and runs the state. The other parties in the legislature constitute the opposition and try to find fault with the government, thus making it more responsible. In the absence of political parties, the elected representatives may work at cross purposes, making it impossible for a government or opposition.

2. Political Parties formulate public policies: Each political party fights the election to achieve its objectives incorporated in its political manifesto. Soon after the election, the majority party forming the government seeks to formulate its administration policies based on promises made in the election manifesto. These policies are made keeping in mind the interest of the general public. The most crucial objective behind most policies remains the betterment of the general condition. Other than this, they make policies on national security, internal law and order, etc. Besides, each party has its own ideology. It is assumed that the majority party gets the mandate of the electorate to implement its own political programme.

3. Political parties educate Public opinion: Parties in any system of government educate, formulate and organise public opinion. They also help in the growth of the level of political consciousness of ordinary citizens, who otherwise have no time to peruse and study issues of the state. To come closer to the people, the political parties organise public rallies, meetings, and press conferences on important topics and clarify their views. The ordinary people are made aware of the country's economic, social, and political conditions. The general public is made aware of their voting rights. This allows ordinary people to analyse the pros and cons of various important issues. This process leads to organising and formulating a public opinion on important issues. The common people who otherwise have no time to devote to politics immensely benefit from these meetings, etc. and understand different aspects of the fundamental issues involved in administration.

4. Political parties provide political stability. In more than one way, the political parties unite, simplify, and stabilise the country's political process. The destabilising forces of localism, regionalism, section, interests and geographical situations are tackled by political parties by making these parts of their party ideology, thus pacifying the disintegrating forces and inducing cohesion. The political parties mainly perform the functions of 'aggregation of interests'. Besides, the political parties in a representative democracy play a significant role in maintaining stability by performing their roles in the legislature. The majority party forms the government, and the other minor parties in the opposition. The party in power has to conduct itself very responsibly.

The opposition party keeps a close eye on the working of the ruling party. Because any unwise move on their part would throw it off power and help the opposition (parties) to take over the reins of administration. The opposition does not merely criticise the government; it also provides an alternative program and alternative government in the eventuality of any crisis in the government. As such, it contributes to the stability of the government. Hence, healthy opposition is significant for the success of democracy.

5. It helps in the recruitment of leaders: The essential function of any party is to recruit men of integrity, letters, action, and leadership to its fold as members and prepare them for election in future. Because it is these members of the party propagate the party ideologies, discuss the burning issues and hold meetings and press conferences to mobilise public support. These leaders again contest in the election and form government if elected to power. Such leaders being drawn from public life are expected to understand the expectations of the ordinary people and formulate public policies accordingly. Parties always get popularity and recognition through their leaders only.

6. Essentials for Success of Parliamentary Democracy: Political parties make parliamentary democracy a success. Parliamentary democ­racy cannot run without the help of two parties—the party in power and the opposition party. The majority party forms the government, and the minority parties include the opposition. The opposition criticises the government's policy, exposing the government's weakness, inefficiency, and drawbacks. It seeks to defeat the party in power and tries to step into its shoes by winning over a majority supporting its policy. The opposition plays a vital role in the sense that it checks the despotic or arbitrary tendency of the government and makes it respond to popular needs.

These are some of the functions of political parties which make them significant in a modern democracy. Educated people can judge the working of political parties in a more rational manner. They are less likely to get trapped with false promises. If the voters are uneducated, political parties may mislead them to choose the wrong candidate. The parties behave responsibly in states where the people, in general, are well educated and politically conscious. This is evident from the working of political parties in western countries, where the political culture is more easily discernible than the non-European countries.


Merits/Advantages/Positive Sides of Political Parties

1. It protects the interest of citizens: As previously stated, the citizens in a democratic country are given the right to vote on political, social and economic issues, particularly the representatives they want to be in charge of making major decisions, such as the president. This can significantly protect the people from anything they would disagree with occurring.

2. It prevents monopoly of authority: Since the government is bound by an election term where parties compete to regain power, democracy prevents monopoly of the ruling regime. And, the elected ruling party would make sure their policies will work for the people, as they will not be able to remain in power after their term with bad records—they will not be re-elected.

3. It promotes equality: Generally, democracy is based on the rule of equality, which means that all people are equal as far as the law is concerned. Every person has the right to experience and enjoy equal political, social and economic rights. The state is not allowed to discriminate against him on the standard of sex, class, religion and property.

4. It makes for a responsible and stable administration: When there are elected, and fixed representatives, a more accountable government is formed. Thus, democracy can be efficient, firm and durable. Its administration is ruled and conducted with a sense of dedication, and people under this system discuss matters and problems thoroughly to come up with sensible decisions.

5. It brings a feeling of obligation towards the citizens: The ruling authorities owe their success to elections by the citizens, so they would feel grateful to and socially responsible for them. This can serve as their motivating factor to work for the citizens, for they have the right of choosing their government.

6. It imparts political education to the people: One argument favouring democracy is that it can serve as a training school for citizens—they are driven to participate in state affairs. During elections, political parties propose their programs and policies to support their candidates through public meetings, demonstrations, television, radio, posters and speeches by their leaders to win public favour. All of these can impart political consciousness among the people.

7. It helps make good citizens: Democracy aims to create the ideal environment conducive to personality improvement, character cultivation and good habits. As per the experts, this political system seems to function as the first school for good citizenship, where individuals can learn about their rights and duties from birth to the time of death.

8. It allows a bit chance of revolution: Since this system is based upon the public will, there will be little to no possibility of general revolt. Elected representatives conduct state affairs with public support. If they do not work efficiently or do not meet the public's expectations, they will probably not do well during the next elections. Democracy or other popular governments often function with consensus. Thus the question of revolution would not arise.

9. It promotes change: This political system can encourage changes in the government without having to resort to any form of violence. It tries to make citizens feel tremendous and even provides them with a good sense of participation and involvement.

10. It encourages political participation: As a democratic nation, America allows its citizens to freely express their opinions and support the political party that shares their interests and views. Unlike China, the US government encourages the public to participate and cast their votes at the polls. Hence, the public can contribute to making significant changes that will benefit everyone

11. Establishing governing body: The most significant advantage of political parties is that they help establish order as they are essentially seen as governing bodies. Having order in society is the most critical aspect of having a safe and controlled environment for everyone to live in. Without the assistance of a ruling party, it would be challenging to have municipal sewage, water, or even electricity. Not to mention that there wouldn't be a way to monitor and create military sectors to help protect your native land. Establishing governing bodies is the most critical aspect of developing society.

12. Political Parties make democracy possible: Actually, the success of democracy is not possible without political parties. The reason for this is that when appropriately managed, political parties can help encourage the people into participating during elections. This ensures that the government officials appointed into different public offices will serve the majority, not only a few.

Demerits/Disadvantages/Negative Sides of Political Parties

1. Produce  Groupism and Local Biases: Political Parties are a source of bias in politics. Every voter is more or less attracted or repelled towards political parties to such an extent that he cannot form an unbiased judgment on policy questions or on the merits of the candidates.

2. Source of divisions among a Nation: Parties produce unnatural divisions. These falsify public opinion. People are not naturally separated by hard and fast lines into two or more compact groups. Political Parties divide them into complex groups.

3. Parties cannot reflect and clarify public opinion: Each party gives its own version of every issue and problem. In the process, public opinion gets confused. Political Parties divide public opinion into party lines.

4. Parties are always dominated by extremists, demagogues, or leaders: The extreme element consistently leads the party; the moderate details are only supporters, and members only follow leaders. They do not break away from the party because they can do nothing else. Hence though disagreeing, they act according to the wishes of the leaders.

5. Not fully and really representative in nature and functioning: Political Parties behave as democratic parties only during elections. After winning elections, the parties and their leaders do not hesitate to avoid and ignore the public and the people's opinions on various issues.

6. The foreign 'Connexions' of Political Parties: Parties open doors to foreign influence and corruption. Some Parties receive funds from foreign sources. These even ignore national interests.

7. Unnatural divisions in Society: The parties divide the nation and the community not on fundamental issues but on an artificial basis. The agreement among the members of one party is fake. Even their disagreements with the opposing party are both unnatural and unreal. Parties are often guilty of dividing people into political lines.

8. Sources of Disharmony: Parties stir up disaffection and dissatisfaction everywhere. Even within every party, there are internal groups and conflicts.

9. Increase the role of money in politics: In capitalist countries, party members are sometimes bought off by industrial magnates and corporations. Industrialists and businessmen are absolute rulers. Parties work as their agents.

10. Not fully Responsible: It has been asserted that the party system has created double government: the holders of governmental power and the other leaders of the party in power. The actual governing authority is in the hands of party leaders. They have no legal responsibility and are free from legal restrictions. It makes a mockery of the responsibility of the democratic government.

11. Agencies of Corruption: Elections are always costly. The Political parties and their members need money for contesting elections. The political parties often adopt corrupt means for getting the required capital for elections.

12. Source of Undesirable Opposition and Criticism: Parties create factionalism in society. The opposition party is always antagonistic to the party in power. Political Parties make politics an unhealthy process of interactions between the majority party and the opposition party or parties.

13. Political Parties are a source of Delay and Inefficiency in Government: Because of the party system, all decisions are taken on party lines and not in the national interests. The majority party always tries to place the party above the nation. The other parties or parties in opposition are continuously at work to check all the majority party's decisions, actions, and programs. Aggressive and harmful party politics is a necessary evil of the party system. Thus, several disadvantages can usually result from the operation of political parties in a political system.

14. Political parties could ruin individuality: There may be parties that expect or force the people to support and share their views blindly. They might not allow their own people to criticise their shortcomings. In short, the people may not be allowed to form their individual opinions on specific issues because they are expected to follow what their party is telling them.

15. Political parties could deprive the country of talented individuals who can contribute to its success: People from the opposition parties are most likely excluded from government participation to better the entire nation.

16. Political parties might have selfish propaganda that could hurt national interest: When political parties carry vested interests and vicious propaganda that benefit only a few and are against other parties, it damages their political environment. And when a specific group cares more for its members than the entire country, it harms the political atmosphere and disturbs the nation's peace and order.

17. It risks the wrong choice of public servants: Truth be told, not all individuals under a democratic government are aware of their country's political and social circumstances. In a voting system, the majority wins, and there is no distinction between the votes cast by the literate and the illiterate. People may favour a candidate based on other factors other than pure and required capability. Considering these things, the elected official may not always be the perfect person for the seat, leading to erroneous decisions.

18. It allows not exercising the right to vote: Sadly, in some democratic countries, people fail to exercise their right to vote. Perhaps, they are reluctant to do it or are just less aware of the impact of their votes. Or, maybe they do not see it as a privilege and make the process less seriously.

19. It may emphasise quantity rather than quality: Another disadvantage of democracy is providing services—it tends to emphasise the amount rather than quality. Also, considering that the system might be governed by irresponsible and incompetent leaders, equality might be in question. Only the rich and famous might be prioritised more than the poor.

20. It can take longer to make decisions: It takes longer to make decisions, but it will also take longer to implement them. Unlike in a monarchy where one person makes quickly implemented decisions, democracy requires majority voting in implementation. Thus, it is relatively less prompt in taking action.

21. It may involve immoral practices during elections: To lure the masses, election campaigns might involve corrupt practices, where candidates would use muscle power to draw the majority of votes, even trying to tarnish their opponents' reputation. Money and power may be abused to influence the people to disregard opposing parties.

However, all these demerits are there because of the universally known weaknesses of human nature. We can minimise these demerits through conscious efforts and institutional and legal means. Parties are indispensable. These are present in every society. These always play a deterministic role in the political process. No government, particularly no democratic government, can get organised without political parties. Therefore, the need is to work toward eliminating or at least controlling the evils of the Political Parties.

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